Free Church of England

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Free Church of England
ScriptureChristian Bible
TheologyLow Church Anglicanism
Full communionReformed Episcopal Church
Separated fromChurch of England
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The Free Church of England (FCE) is an episcopal church based in England. The church was founded when a number of congregations separated from the established Church of England in the middle of the 19th century.[1]

The doctrinal basis of the FCE, together with its episcopal structures, organisation, worship, ministry and ethos are recognisably "Anglican" although it is not a member of the Anglican Communion. Its worship style follows that of the Book of Common Prayer or conservative modern-language forms that belong to the Anglican tradition.

The Church of England acknowledges the FCE as a church with valid orders and its canons permit a range of shared liturgical and ministerial activities.


The Free Church of England was founded principally by Evangelical Low Church clergy and congregations in response to what were perceived as attempts (inspired by the Oxford Movement) to re-introduce traditional Catholic practices into the Church of England, England's established church. The first congregation was formed by the Reverend James Shore at St John's Church Bridgetown, Totnes, Devon, in 1844.[2]

In the early years, clergy were often provided by the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion which had its origins in the 18th-century Evangelical Revival. By the middle of the 19th century the connexion still retained many Anglican features such as the use of the surplice and the Book of Common Prayer.[3]

The first bishop was Benjamin Price, who initially had oversight of all the new congregations.

In 1874 the FCE made contact with the newly organised Reformed Episcopal Church in North America.[4]

In 1956, the FCE published a revision of the Book of Common Prayer to form the primary text of the denomination's liturgy. The stated intention of the revision was to remove or explain "particular phrases and expressions" from the Church of England's 1662 edition of the prayer book that "afford at least plausible ground for the teaching and practice of the Sacerdotal and Romanising Party".[5]

In 2003, due to the adoption of High Church practices by the FCE, two bishops and ten congregations split from the main church and formed the Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England.[6] Three of these congregations returned to the FCE - those in Exeter (which subsequently left the FCE again in April 2023[7]), Middlesbrough and Oswaldtwistle. Two churches in Farnham and Teddington having become independent altogether, the ECFCE currently has five churches in Fleetwood, Leeds, Leigh-on-Sea, Tuebrook (Liverpool) and Workington.[8]

Ordained ministry

The church holds a threefold ministry of deacons, presbyters and bishops and only ordains men.[9] Its orders have been recognised as valid by the Church of England since 2013.[10]


The provision of contemporary language liturgies has been approved by convocation and a process of drafting and authorisation has begun. The church has continued to ordain bishops in the apostolic succession, with Moravian, Church of England and Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church bishops taking part on occasion.[11]


The united church enjoyed modest growth in the first part of the 20th century, having at one point 90 congregations, but after the Second World War, like most other denominations in the UK, suffered a decline in numbers, though there has been a modest increase in the number of congregations in recent years.[12] The 18 UK churches are located as follows.

Holy Trinity Church Free Church of England, Oswaldtwistle

Northern Diocese


  • –1917: William Troughton
  • 1927–1958: Frank Vaughan
  • 1958–1967: Thomas Cameron
  • 1967–1973: James Burrell
  • 1973–1998: Cyril Milner
  • 1999–2003: Arthur Bentley-Taylor
  • 2003–2006: John McLean
  • 2006–present: John Fenwick
Church Location Founded Link Minister Notes
St George, Mill Hill Blackburn, Lancashire 1907 [13] Kenneth Howles
Emmanuel, Morecambe Morecambe, Lancashire 1886 Brett Murphy
Holy Trinity, Oswaldtwistle Oswaldtwistle, Lancashire 1870 [14][better source needed] Anthony Roberts
St John with Trinity, Tottington Tottington, Greater Manchester 1853 Arthur Kay
St David, Preston Preston, Lancashire 1939 Vacant Previously an unaffiliated Anglican church
Christ Church, Liscard Liscard, Merseyside 1880 Trevor Hutchinson
St Augustine, Isle of Man Douglas, Isle of Man 2016 [15] Sir Laurence New Joined FCE 2020. Meets in Jim Crosbie Memorial Hall, Derby Road, Douglas. IM2 3EN
Impact Community Church Hollinwood, Greater Manchester [16] Elijah Boswell Associate church

St Stephen's Middlesbrough closed its building in 2017. The church continued to meet in a community centre but closed in 2021.[17]

Southern Diocese


  • 1889–1896: Benjamin Price
  • 1896–1901: Samuel Dicksee
  • 1904–1927: Richard Brook Lander
  • 1927–1934: Joseph Fenn
  • 1934–1955: John Magee
  • 1955–1968: George Forbes-Smith
  • 1968–1971: Ambrose Bodfish
  • 1972–1976: William Watkins
  • 1977–1990: Arthur Ward
  • 1990–2006: Kenneth Powell
  • 2007–present: Paul Hunt


Church Location Founded Link Minister Notes
St Jude, Balham Balham, London 1887 [18] Mark Gretason
St Andrew, Bentley Bentley, West Midlands 1943 [19] Paul Hunt
St Jude, Chuckery Walsall, West Midlands 1909 [20] joined FCE 1947
Emmanuel, Birmingham Saltley, West Midlands 1903 Daniel Choe
Christ Church, Broadstairs Broadstairs, Kent 1904 Jabson Watson
Christ Church, Harlesden Harlesden, London 1886 [21] Calvin Robinson (priest of the Nordic Catholic Church)
Christ Church, Willesborough Willesborough, Ashford, Kent 1874 Jabson Watson
St Francis, Shoreham-by-Sea Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex 2012 [22] Gerald Kirsch
St Paul's, Bexhill-on-Sea Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex 1928 [23] P. Gadsden joined FCE 2021

Christ Church in Crowborough, East Sussex was founded in 1879 and remained in use by the Free Church of England until the early 21st century. It is now an independent Evangelical church.[24]

Emmanuel Anglican Church, Tunbridge Wells, was founded in 2016 and joined the FCE in 2019. Its minister, Peter Sanlon, had previously been a Church of England minister. In May 2021 the church announced it was withdrawing from the FCE following concerns about governance in the FCE and the conduct of Bishop John Fenwick.[25] The same decision was taken by Christ Church, Exmouth (founded 1896; minister Josep Rosello),[26] and Christ Church Balham (founded in 2002 as an independent Anglican church; joined FCE 2019[27]).

St Peter's, Croydon, was a new FCE church in 2018.[28]

South American diocese

The church in South America, comprising 25 congregations, was recognised as an overseas diocese by the convocation held in June 2018. The 16 Brazilian congregations are registered as the Anglican Reformed Church of Brazil (Portuguese: Igreja Anglicana Reformada do Brasil; IARB).[29]

On 5 May 2021, the South American diocese withdrew from the FCE, citing a "total loss of confidence in the leadership of the FCE" and "abuses of power committed by Bishop John Fenwick".[30]

Recognition of orders

In January 2013 it was announced that the Church of England had recognised the holy orders of the Free Church of England.[31] This move followed approximately three years of contact between the bishops of the Free Church of England, the Council for Christian Unity and the Faith and Order Commission. The recognition was not voted on by the General Synod but was endorsed by the standing committee of the House of Bishops. John McLean, the then Bishop Primus of the Free Church of England, said: "We are grateful to the archbishops for this recognition of our common episcopal heritage. I pray that it will not be an end in itself, but will lead to new opportunities for proclaiming the Gospel." Christopher Hill, Bishop of Guildford and chair of the Church of England's Council for Christian Unity, said: "I hope there will be good relations between us and especially in those places where there is a Free Church of England congregation."[32]

Recognition of the orders of the Free Church of England under the Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967 means that FCE clergy are eligible to be given permission under that measure to officiate in the Church of England, subject to such procedures and authorisations as may be required. A number have been so authorised while remaining clergy of the FCE in good standing. The measure also permits FCE bishops to ordain and perform other episcopal functions at the request of the bishop of a diocese in the provinces of Canterbury and York, subject to the consent of the relevant archbishop.[33]


The FCE is in communion with the Reformed Episcopal Church, which itself is now a member of the Anglican Church in North America. Within the UK the FCE is a member of the Free Churches Group[34] and Churches Together in England. From 1992 to 1997 the FCE was in official dialogue with the Church of England, which the 1998 Lambeth Conference saw as a sign of hope.[35] It is a Designated Church under the Church of England's Ecumenical Relations Measure 1988.[36]

FCE bishops have attended the enthronements of George Carey, Rowan Williams and Justin Welby as Archbishops of Canterbury. Since 2013, the Free Church of England has been in dialogue with the conservative Old Catholics of the Union of Scranton; one of the FCE parishes is served by a priest of the Union of Scranton's Nordic Catholic Church, the former FCE deacon Calvin Robinson.[37][38]

Anglican realignment

The FCE has been involved in the realignments within the Anglican Communion. In 2009 the church was represented at the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK and Ireland), the local expression of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) movement inaugurated the previous year in Jerusalem.[citation needed] In October 2013, the bishop primus, John Fenwick, attended the second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON 2) in Nairobi. He has been consulted in the restructuring of GAFCON UK (the successor body to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK and Ireland)) under the leadership of Bishop Andy Lines, the ACNA missionary bishop endorsed by the GAFCON primates.[39]

In February 2016, Foley Beach, archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, signed an instrument declaring the Anglican Church in North America to be in full communion with the Free Church of England, and recognising "their congregations, clergy, and sacraments, while pledging to work together for the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ and the making of his disciples throughout the world". Archbishop Beach's declaration was ratified by the provincial council of the ACNA in June 2016.[40]

Notable people

  • Calvin Robinson, political commentator, broadcaster and priest in the Nordic Catholic Church currently serving as minister of the FCE's Christ Church, Harlesden. Formerly a theological student in training for ordained ministry in the Church of England, Robinson was denied ordination in 2022 and joined the FCE, where he was ordained as a deacon, before leaving the FCE in 2023 and joining the Nordic Catholic Church.


  1. ^ Richard D. Fenwick, "The Free Church of England otherwise called the Reformed Episcopal Church c. 1845 to c. 1927", PhD thesis, University of Wales, 1995.
  2. ^ Grayson Carter, Anglican Evangelicals. Protestant Secessions from the via media, c.1800–1850 (2001/15)
  3. ^ John Fenwick, The Free Church of England: Introduction to an Anglican Tradition, London, Continuum, 2004, pp. 9–33.
  4. ^ Allen C. Guelzo, For the Union of Evangelical Christendom: The Irony of the Reformed Episcopalians, Pennsylvania, State University Press, 1994, pp. 224–227.
  5. ^ Free Church of England (January 1956). The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies for use in the Free Church of England otherwise called the Reformed Episcopal Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland. London: Marshall, Morgan, & Scott.
  6. ^ "History and other fce – Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England". Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  7. ^ "Mixed week for the FCE: looses a parish but gains a television show". Anglican Ink. Retrieved 7 July 2023.
  8. ^ "Churches". Evangelical Connexion of the Free Church of England. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  9. ^ "The Constitution" (pdf). Free Church of England. August 2022. Retrieved 6 April 2024.
  10. ^ "Free Church of England Orders recognised". The Church of England. Archbishops' Council. 28 January 2013. Archived from the original on 13 February 2013. Retrieved 6 April 2024.
  11. ^ John Fenwick, The Forgotten Bishops: The Malabar Independent Syrian Church and its Place in the Story of the St Thomas Christians of South India, Piscataway, NJ, Gorgias Press, 2009, p.582; The Glastonbury Review, vol. XXII, no. 114, (November 2006), p. 299; Free Church of England Year Book, 2006-2007.
  12. ^ Year books 2007-2013.
  13. ^ "St George".
  14. ^ "Holy Trinity Oswaldtwistle".
  15. ^ "St Augustine's church Douglas, IOM".
  16. ^ "Impact Community Church Oldham". Impact Church.
  17. ^ Release, Press (13 April 2021). "A Statement concerning St Stephen's Church, Middlesbrough from the Free Church of England". Anglican Ink © 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  18. ^ "St Jude's Church, Balham". St Jude’s Church, Balham.
  19. ^ "St Andrew's Church".
  20. ^ "St Jude's Church, Chuckery".
  21. ^ "Christ Church". Retrieved 2 January 2023.
  22. ^ "St Francis Church Shoreham By Sea".
  23. ^ "St Paul's". Community.
  24. ^ Elleray, D. Robert (2004). Sussex Places of Worship. Worthing: Optimus Books. p. 19. ISBN 0-9533132-7-1.
  25. ^ "Parish quits FCE over Fenwick scandal". Anglican Ink © 2021. 5 May 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  26. ^ "FCE Bishops resigns over Fenwick affair". Anglican Ink. 6 May 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  27. ^ "London congregation joins alternative Anglican denomination, questions C of E's 'theological trajectory'". Premier Christian Radio. 25 January 2019. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  28. ^ "St Peter FCE Inaugural Service". The Free Church of England. 28 March 2018. Retrieved 28 September 2021.
  29. ^ "Igreja Anglicana Reformada do Brasil". 20 June 2014. Archived from the original on 2 May 2010. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  30. ^ "South American diocese withdraws from the FCE". Anglican Ink. 7 May 2021. Retrieved 2 July 2021.
  31. ^ "Free Church of England Orders recognised". Archived from the original on 8 February 2013. Retrieved 17 January 2022.
  32. ^ Gledhill, Ruth (28 January 2013). "Church of England recognises 'free' order that is against women bishops". The Times. London.
  33. ^ "Overseas and Other Clergy (Ministry and Ordination) Measure 1967". Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  34. ^ "". Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  35. ^ Mark Dyer et al. (eds.), The Official Report of the Lambeth Conference 1998, Harrisburg, PA, Morehouse Publishing, 1999, p.228.
  36. ^ "Supplementary material". The Church of England. Retrieved 1 October 2023.
  37. ^ "Den nordisk-katolske kirke » for den udelte kirkes tro". 29 August 2015. Retrieved 6 December 2015.
  38. ^ Chadwick, Fr Anthony (16 March 2013). "Free Church of England and the Union of Scranton". The Blue Flower. Retrieved 2 January 2023.
  39. ^ "About Gafcon GB & Europe".
  40. ^ Andrew Gross (21 June 2016). "Archbishop Foley Beach addresses Provincial Council 2016". The Anglican Church in North America. Retrieved 16 January 2023.

Further reading

External links